12. June 2018

Postdoc from MIB in new study: Wants to expand the study of music evolution with neurological approach

Postdocs Massimo Lumaca from Center for Music in the Brain (MIB) together with Andrea Ravignani and Giosuè Baggio from Vrije Universiteit Bruxelles and Max Planck Institute for Psycholingvistic, have proposed an interdisciplinary study on music that unites cultural transmission and neurophysiology. The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.

How did music emerge? Why is music the way it is now, and not in some other form? These questions, among others, are ones for which a research group from the Center for Music in the Brain (MIB) wants to find answers. Massimo Lumaca, a post-doctoral researcher from MIB, together with two other colleagues, has recently published a study in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience that proposes how the study of music evolution has so far been missing an essential scientific dimension: neurophysiology, the study of the nervous system’s function.

Inspired by work on the origins of language, the researchers present a recent hypothesis concerning how music should also be understood: as a constantly evolving cultural system that adjusts to the human brain. The theory is based on the idea that music, like language, is limited by the individual’s perceptual and memory systems. The passage of music from one generation to the next therefore generates a “sieving” process through which music is progressively filtered and accordingly changes to reflect the properties and limits of the listeners’/users’ brains.

Using this as a point of departure, the young researchers have attempted to address this hypothesis at a deeper level of analysis: the neural level. Discussing a series of recent neurophysiological experiments in humans and non-humans, the researchers suggest that general auditory mechanisms can explain the different aspects of music and the diversity of music across cultures all over the world. According to Lumaca and co-authors, this theory should provide a different and innovative approach whereby the research is fundamentally more interdisciplinary and exists in the intersection between cultural research, neuroscience, and genetics.

Read more about the research in Frontiers in Neuroscience here. 

Further information on the research and MIB can be found here. 

Sign up for our newsletter